29 December 2012

Nigeria: Codeine Abuse Spreading Like Wild Fire

Bauchi, Abuja, Kano, Jalingo — Cough syrup, with or without codeine, is used for the treatment of coughing and related ailments. But in Nigeria today, cough syrup, particularly the one containing codeine - which is to be derived from the opium poppy and is related to morphine and heroin - is being abused by youths, men and women.

According to medical experts, codeine has become a favourite for many drug abusers because it is very easy to obtain either over the counter or through prescription at big from small medicine stores. They also cite reasons for using codeine include experiencing the euphoric effects associated with opiates, just as they averred that it is common practice for young people wishing to obtain a high to drink an overdose of cough syrup straight.

And despite the health hazards - which include, but not limited to liver and kidney damage, as health experts warn - abuse of cough syrup is on the increase in many Northern states and spreading like wild fire.

Codeine ladies of Jalingo

In Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, cough syrup is widely abused by youngsters who take it as intoxicants. Weekly Trust was in Jalingo, Taraba state where it found out how girls are abusing the drug with passion.

Harry, Donzeeny, Mairo are girls in their thirties. Educated and exposed, politically-inclined, the trio can easily fit what is termed "big girls." But they, among other things, indulge in the consumption of "cough syrup with Codeine" to "feel high and fine."

It was around 7:30pm and this reporter was called by a news source to meet him at a motel in Jalingo. Weekly Trust this source and three other girls. They were all served soft drinks though this reporter declined one.

Harry (not real name) ordered for an empty glass cup. Instead of pouring her soft drink this tall, dark in complexion girl opened her hand bag and brought two small bottles out. Consciously, she emptied half of the two bottles into the glass cup. She thereafter poured her soft drink to fill the glass half way and ordered for a straw from a waiter.

She stirred her mixture gently before sipping it. While Harry was doing all this, this reporter though engrossed in a discussion with his host was consciously observing her.

Thereafter, Harry invited Donzeeny, Mairo, my host and said to this reporter "come and share my drink, our Abuja friend." I then curiously asked "what mixture is that?" Taking a sip, she said in low tone voice "benylin with codeine."

My host declined the offer while Mairo took some and ordered for a glass cup to prepare her mixture and Donzeeny pompously said she would take the "stuff raw unadulterated." The two bottles were handed to her and she poured some into her mouth.

When asked why they were taking the syrup Donzeeny said "you mean you don't take this in Abuja?" "benylin with codeine is for big boys and babes. You seem to be a big boy but you don't take it, am surprised. Don't be shy, be free. We're all friends let's enjoy ourselves."

We're not alone:

Mairo, who has been engrossed with her mixture interrupted saying "Haba, Abuja people, mostly politicians take solace in codeine more than anyone else. It keeps them high, relaxed and composed. In fact, I know so many lawmakers who take this stuff.

She went further to explain how the politicians take their stuff. "You see, they take it in style. They usually take their mixture in Coca-Cola bottles or cans. They relish in it," she said.

The girls said that they get this stuff from chemists. When this reporter checked, he saw that the syrups are manufactured in Nigeria. "They are sold between N300 to N1000 here in Jalingo," Donzeeny said.

"It is no secret that people take codeine to feel cool," Mairo said.

Donzeeny said that it's not true that only spinsters take the drug. "I know so many married women that take Benellin. In fact, they are in the highest number. They enjoy it," she said.

'How dependency starts'

The rampant abuse of cough syrups with codeine contents only takes the abusers to a happy and ecstasy realm for a while with the consequences of setting addiction and dependency on the substance to live a normal life, Mr. Pius Akuchi, a psychologist at the Federal Medical Center Makurdi has said.

The psychologists confirmed the rampant abuse of the substance and other related drugs among youths and women lately. He however said as regards the youths, peer pressure is tops of the factors that lead them to such vices, while for the women; social problems; depression as well as the peer pressure are all part of reasons.

"The cases of women, even those that are married abusing these substances are on the rise, partly due to unhappiness in their marriages, some peer pressure among others. But the truth is that ,these recreational drugs can only give you brief happiness while it lasted, the moment the effects of the drugs fades, you are returning to your sober mood, in fact, at that point the depression would be worse because of some of the chemical contents of the drug."

He said most females that consume the substance carry them inside their handbags and feel convenient because most of them don't have offensive smells.

He then calls on parents and guardians and even married people to monitor any suspicious company and actions by their partners. "It is cheaper and easier to track down and work on such people earlier before addiction sets in."

In Bauchi, young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years are the majority victims of drugs addiction including codeine abuse, according investigations by Weekly Trust.

The State Commandant of the NDLEA Mr Pariah Julius Bawa "one of our major constraints is that some of the illicit drugs like benylin with codeine, solution and so on, even when we arrest the suspect we don't have powers to prosecute them because they are not under the international law.

"But we are making arrangement with the state government to sponsor a bill to the state house of assembly that will give us powers to prosecute any boy found with this category of illicit drugs. For now, what we do is that we counsel them."

A community leader Alhaji Aminu Mohammed Danmaliki said the only solution is for all stakeholders to come join hands and fight the menace of illicit drugs. Parents, he said, must know the movement and activities of their wards and children, while the community should also play its own role in the proper upbringing of children.

In Kano, where codeine abuse is high, there are indications that a stage is being set for possible

confrontation between the Kano State government and drug sellers under the auspices of Nigerian Association of Patent and Propriety Medicines at the popular Abubakar Rimi or Sabon Gari market.

The two sides may be heading for a showdown at the expiration of the December 31, deadline given to the patent medicine dealers by the government to vacate the premises of the market.

The faceoff is becoming more inevitable as either side have stoutly stuck to conflicting interpretations of a Federal High Court injunction, restraining the state government from evicting the traders pending determination of a motion before it.

The drug dealers association and 16 others had rushed to the Federal High Court sitting in Gyadi-Gyadi area of Kano, asking it to stop the planned ejection of medicines proprietors from the market.

In a motion exparte filed before the court on December 5, 2012 the applicants prayed the court for an order restraining the state government, Attorney General of Kano State, The Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, the state police commissioner, the minister of health and the Attorney General of the Federation, joined as co-respondents from ejecting them or attempting to eject them from the Sabon Gari market pending hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

They also prayed the court to issue an order restraining the state government and Kano State Task Force on Counterfeit and Fake Drugs and Unwholesome Processed Foods, PCN, Kano police commissioner from tempering with and attempting to breach their right to the peaceful enjoyment of their stalls and in fulfillment of their contractual obligations pending the determination of the motion on notice.

Also, they ask the court to issue an order restraining the state government, task force on counterfeit drugs, PCN and the commissioner of police from ejecting, attempting to forcefully eject or seal up their premises at the market without following due process of law pending the determination of the motion before the court.

Similarly, the applicants also asked the court to restrain the state government, the task force on counterfeit drugs, PCN and the state police commissioner from interfering or infringing with their rights to earn a livelihood in their trade in the market and in other places where they have stalls, pending determination of the motion on notice.

Ruling on the motion exparte on December 10, 2012 presiding judge of the Federal High Court sitting in Kano, Justice Fatun O. Riman, granted all the prayers and adjourned the matter to December 18, for hearing of the motion on notice.

However, disagreement over the sustainability of the interim injunction cropped up between the parties after the court failed to sit to hear the motion on the adjourned date, due to the judge's absence. While the matter was adjourned to February 18, for hearing, the state government through its Attorney General, Barrister Maliki Kuliya, threatened to go ahead with the eviction of the traders, justifying the intended action with what he said was the expiration of the court injunction.

Kuliya, who was defending government's position on a local radio programme on Thursday in Kano, argued that the Federal High Court order lapsed after the Tuesday adjourned date, saying it was now convenient for the state government to enforce the December 31, deadline.

According to the AG, the court order was only meant to last before the parties meet in court on the adjourned date for hearing of the motion on notice.

He therefore, enjoined the medicines dealers to comply with the earlier directive and vacate the Sabon Gari market, vowing that the state government will not back down on its stance.

The dealers should comply and move out of the market first before the state government may consider the option of sitting down to talk with them, he said.

But on their part, the marketers have vowed not to move an inch as they argued that the court order they obtained had not been vacated to warrant them to leave the market.

Chairman of the Kano State chapter of the Nigerian Association of Patent and propriety Medicines, Husain Labaran Zakari, told Weekly Trust that there members were resolved to continue to trade in the market beyond the government's ultimatum.

He maintained that the next line of action to be employed by the association is to write to the police, SSS and other security agencies in the state intimating them on the existing court and the government's plan.

"We will inform the security agencies that we will go ahead and respect the law, as both the court and the state government are the creation of the law. So we will follow what the law says," the chairman explained.

As the two sides appear to have unsheathed their swords ready to defend their positions, it is difficult to predict how the issue will be resolved before a possible confrontation on December 12.

How it started

The state government notice to the medicines dealers to vacate the Sabon Gari market was given in July, with the government justifying the action with alleged unwholesome practices on the part of the traders.

Other than selling fake and illicit products, the dealers were also accused of ruining lives of youths in the state by engaging in the sale of highly abused drugs like cough syrups containing codeine.

The dealers, however, criticized the state government for resorting to apply the punitive measure uniformly, without, first, collaborating with the patent dealers association to address the menace and then, identifying and punishing individuals involved in such illegal dealings, which they said is the responsibility of government.

They have argued that even if eviction was the last option, resorting to it without providing alternative place for them to trade their wares will spell a doom on their means of livelihood.

The matter heated up to a stage where 5000 members of the association locked of their shops for two days last week in protest of the planned ejection and to possibly force the state government to reconsider the policy.

One of their claims for instituting a legal action is that they have made efforts to sit with the state government over the issue, but the government have appeared bent on carrying out its will and was therefore not ready to listen to them.

In a related development, a senior university lecturer has warned Kano state government on the effect of its decision to chase away drug marketers from Sabon Gari market as it was observed that some would relocate and do the proper thing. While a good majority of them would go to other states where drug laws are not enforced and where markets are free for all and flood Kano state with their wares.

The observation was made in Kano, at Palace Restaurant, by the Dean Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kaduna state University and former Registrar Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN), Dr Ahmad Tijjani Mora, at a Dinner organized to honour Alhaji Nuhu Isah Abdullahi, who was recently turbaned as the Dankade of Gumel, by the Emir of Gumel.

Dr Mora says though the gesture by Kano state government is worth commending, there is a need to put in place measures that will tackle the aftermath of their eviction from the market as one cannot over rule the possibilities of other attempts that could cripple the government's good intention.

He observed that Kano has the highest population in the country and the governor has a responsibility to make sure that Kano indigenes and those living in Kano have access to genuine drugs. He further challenged that there was nowhere in Nigeria where regulatory agency has licensed premises to sell pharmaceutical products, ethically or OTC (over the counter).

He stressed that all outlets of drugs one sees in any market in this country are illegal premises. "The governor is not a pharmacist, but we commend him by taking the bull by the horn by heeding to professional advices from the professional stakeholders, like the Task Force on Drugs, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and others", he said.

Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Solomon Chung, Lawan A. Danjuma, Ibrahim Musa Giginyu and Ahmed Mohammed

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